Unlimited LTE plans come with restraints

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Unlimited LTE plans come with restraints

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A view of a street in central Seoul with mobile dealers last month. [NEWS1]

The nation’s top three mobile carriers SK Telecom, KT and LG U+, which have been restlessly competing against each other and have turned the domestic mobile market into a battlefield, unveiled what they called unlimited LTE data plans last month.

The three mobile carriers introduced the “unlimited” data plans while still under a government-enforced 45-day business suspension for offering illegal subsidies. The first unlimited plan launched by the nation’s No. 3 mobile carrier LG U+ on April 2.

The companies said that the plans were launched for the benefit of their customers, but it is necessary for subscribers to double-check if they are actually coming out on top.

The unlimited LTE data plans launched by the top three mobile carriers offer a similar amount of data at different prices, but none are unlimited. All three carriers limit the speed of the LTE data after a certain amount is used even though the plans are called unlimited.

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All three mobile carriers reduce the LTE data speed to three megabits per second (Mbps) when their users exceed the amount of data stipulated in their plan. The average speed of broadband LTE is about 50 to 60 Mbps so the speed is one-twentieth slower.

The amount of LTE data provided without a limit on speed differs by mobile carrier.

SK Telecom provides eight gigabytes, 12 gigabytes and 16 gigabytes of LTE data per month, depending on the plan. KT offers 10 gigabytes or 25 gigabytes every month.

Both carriers provide two extra gigabytes per day without a limit on speed when their subscribers exhaust the monthly amount of LTE data.

LG U+ does not limit its LTE data on a monthly basis, instead providing two gigabytes per day without a limit on speed.

The amount of speed of LTE data is also limited when using tethering services to connect to smartphones or laptops.

KT subscribers can use an additional two gigabytes of data for tethering on top of their basic high-speed LTE data.

For LG U+, maximum data usage for tethering is two gigabytes of LTE per day.

SK Telecom users cannot use tethering at all on top of their basic amount of data.

The new string of so-called unlimited plans started when LG U+ Vice Chairman Lee Sang-chul launched his company’s deal on April 2, saying the carrier had been preparing the plan for more than a year.

Within half an hour of LG U+’s announcement, No. 1 mobile carrier SK Telecom sent out press releases announcing its own LTE unlimited deal.

The nation’s second-largest mobile operator KT followed suit with its own unlimited plan on April 7.

LG U+ launched two data plans, LTE8 Unlimited 80 and LTE8 Unlimited 85. The basic monthly fee for LTE8 Unlimited 80 is 62,000 won ($60) and LTE8 Unlimited 85 costs 85 68,000 won when a person subscribes to a two-year contract.

SK Telecom’s LTE National Unlimited plan is more like an upgrade of its existing “unlimited” plans.

Subscribers to an old plan automatically receive the benefits of the new LTE data plan. Customers on a two-year contract will pay 61,250 won per month for the LTE Unlimited 75 Plus package, 65,000 won for the LTE Unlimited 85 and 76,000 won for the LTE Unlimited 100.

KT’s Unlimited 79 plan costs 61,000 won per month and the Unlimited 129 costs 99,000 won per month when subscribers sign a two-year contract.

These new plans have contributed to skyrocketing prices for customers.

Rather than reducing communication costs, the unlimited LTE data plans encourage the use of LTE, making bills more expensive, experts say.

“Three years ago, when carriers launched 3G unlimited data plans, the plans were 54,000 won on average with 36,000 won of basic monthly fees,” said a spokesman for the Korea Consumer Affair Institute.

“Since the launch of unlimited voice call plans, costs rose to 67,000 won with 51,000 won of basic monthly fees on average. In just three years, the actual basic monthly fees surged 42 percent from 36,000 won to 51,000 won. The LTE unlimited data plans are 71,000 won on average with 61,000 won of basic monthly fees.”

BY KIM JUNG-YOON [kjy@joongang.co.kr]



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